Thursday, July 15, 2010


Rope is really a better film than it should be, given that it was primarily an attempt at trying out newer technology in a gimmicky way, like all the 3-D (and, I suppose, widescreen) and other types of gimmicked movies that came out in the years following. I guess what I’m saying is that this film is directly responsible for William Castle’s career, and you can quote me on that.
For those that don’t know, for this film Hitch had decided to use special cameras that could film ten minutes at a time, and so made this film as one long scene, with mostly “invisible” cuts every several minutes (mostly by jamming the camera into someone’s back as an astonishingly awkward way of hiding the transitions) to keep the film moving along. Servicing this is a story adapted from the stage play by the same name (itself based loosely off of the Leopold-Loeb case of 1924), wherein two young men (Farley Granger and John Dall), obsessed with committing the perfect crime, murder their classmate, hide the body in a large chest prominently displayed in the front of the room, and then host a party for all the victim’s family and friends to truly show their superiority. Unfortunately, one of the invitees is their old housemaster (Jimmy Stewart), a lover of mysteries, who begins to suspect all is not well with the two classmates and their absent friend.

First, let’s deal with the big criticism of the film, and that’s that it feels a lot like what it is: a film adaptation of a play. The whole movie takes place in one location (indeed, in one scene), and ends with a really clunky, preachy speech. Now, while people generally don’t enjoy “play-like” movies because of the static locations and talkiness that many audiences find boring, I think the real problem involved in these types of films is that they don’t really take full advantage of the specific languages of film and the things that one can do in them that can’t be done in other mediums. Comparing this film to something like Rebecca or Notorious (or particularly later films like Rear Window or Vertigo), all of them required sets both far too lavish and too numerous to be possible on a stage, to say nothing of the music and camerawork that defines a film. Despite this, the dialogue and acting remain mostly strong throughout, and so the film is able to overcome its shortcomings here.

Indeed, the dialogue and acting are the lynchpins upon which the whole film rests, so it’s good that both are so strong. The three leads, one supremely arrogant and cocky, one twisting himself into knots over his crime, and one eager to pounce on everyone and toy with his victims, give some of the more memorable performances in Hitch’s career. The dialogue too, outside of some clumsy and overwritten patches, often crackles with energy, in particular when Dall starts all but admitting their crimes because he’s so overconfident that none of his party guests will realize what he is truly talking about, or when Stewart smells weakness in Granger and spends several minutes toying with him, just to see what’ll happen when he cracks.

It’s not really one of Hitch’s masterpieces, and generally isn’t remembered as such, but it’s one that’s well worth a viewing or two. It’s arguably the most actor-oriented film Hitchcock ever made (its main competition being Lifeboat, I suppose, which was also a one set film where everyone was stuck in an airport), and it holds the distinction of being Hitch’s first color film. How can you go wrong with that?

Rating: ***

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